[Review] Summer In Mara – Nintendo Switch

Written by Abbi Smith
  • Developer: Chibig
  • Publisher: Chibig
  • Release Date: 16/06/2020
  • Price: £19.99 / $22.49
  • Review code provided by Chibig

Introducing: Summer In Mara Switch Review

Summer in Mara, an adorable Kickstarter venture, is laid-back, surprisingly deep, and comes across as what can only be described as the love-child of Harvest Moon and Moana. It isn’t perfect, but is definitely worth trying. There’s a certain focus on preserving the tranquility and balance of nature that provides a wonderful and much welcome escape from the current pandemic.

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Mara

Don’t expect to dash through Summer In Mara. Koa’s story is one of peace, exploration, and spreading joy through the simple mindset of a child that simultaneously runs startlingly deeper than some of the adults she comes across. Each character is vibrant and unique; from the flame-haired blacksmith Akaji to the snooty banker Edegan and the mysterious Elit Aquila, every one is fully fleshed out with a distinct personality. They may not be voiced, but the design made it easy to assign them voices in my head.

Koa is a wonderfully naive protagonist. All she wants to do is explore Mara, living up to the lessons she learned from her beloved grandmother Yaya Haku and meeting all sorts of interesting people. She’s pushy, stubborn, friendly, and happy to help anyone who crosses her path – a delight to play, and a refreshing change from many modern protagonists.

There is a heavier, more involved story in Summer In Mara that I can’t say much about without spoiling anything. Unfortunately, it barely rose its head until late in the game, and when it did there was a short explosion of information just before the ending of the main questline.

So Laid-back It’s Almost Horizontal

You know those games where there’s one main story to follow, and a number of side quests all handily labelled as such? Summer In Mara is not one of those. Each questline is labelled according to who issued it, with no particular indication of which is the “primary” story. This can be rather annoying from a reviewer’s point of view, but as a player, it gives a wonderful freedom regarding the order in which you do things. I found it oddly satisfying to stack up a few quests that all required something of the same ilk – speaking to someone on Qalis, or bringing a grown product etc. – as colloquially-named “fetch quests” make up the entirety of Summer In Mara. 

I love a good farming sim, and this one is no different. Buy the plant seeds from any of the vendors, take them back to Home Island and plant them in your fields, then wait a few days for them to grow. One odd but not entirely unwelcome mechanic is the fact that the crops will grow without being watered; a very useful fact considering that rainfall is peculiarly rare and each well only allows three buckets of water before running dry. It’s very convenient to be able to leave crops growing while venturing to explore the seas, only to return to a blooming field!

Also on Home Island is Koa’s shack, a cute little cabin equipped with a workshop and kitchen. This is, unfortunately, the only place in Mara that allows for the crafting of tools and consumables, as well as the cooking of meals. It quickly becomes an inconvenience, having to travel back to Home Island every time something needs to be made – and trust me, you’ll be spending a lot of time making consumables! It would have been much nicer to have crafting stations on each island, or even on the boat.

Speaking of the boat, the other major component of life in Mara is traveling the seas on the most adorably designed little boat I’ve ever had the pleasure of digitally sailing. While each island was completely different and had its own particular specialty, they did become very same-y very quickly and other than resources, these locales had nothing that really captured my interest. I’d have loved there to be a couple of small villages dotted among the islands, just to add a little more variety and more reasons to revisit.

There are also a couple of mini-games dotted about for fishing and diving. Admittedly, they felt more like a chore than an enjoyable addition. Fishing, in particular, was just stressful as you try to follow the icon that sometimes moves far quicker than the bar is capable of, and when diving there are absolutely no on-screen instructions which was annoying and inconvenient. I never did either activity for fun, only when something specific was required to progress a quest and I couldn’t obtain it any other way.

Not As Smooth As That Island Cocktail…

Exploring on the boat is a delight – zooming over the rolling waves, watching the light from the setting sun dance across the water, a beautiful vista unfortunately ruined by islands that pop into existence without preamble. The islands themselves were gorgeously designed and fun to explore, but suffered from the same magically appearing objects and it interrupted the relaxed vibe. The art style is very sweet, with vibrant colours and vivid designs practically leaping off of the screen to sweep you away on the winds of island life.

The soundtrack, while wonderfully relaxed and accompanied by very well-placed and light sound effects and environmental noise, didn’t mesh well with the game. The music tended to start up unexpectedly, play for a long while, and then vanish for a few minutes before starting again. It’s a shame, because better timing would have made the experience much more pleasant.

I did encounter one particular bug involving a camera angle during an early story scene, but have been assured that this will be patched out sooner rather than later, so I’m not holding it against the game. One problem that did arise, however, was visual stuttering. Regardless of whether I was in handheld or docked, if I approached an island that hadn’t yet materialized while rain was falling I’d get a very noticeable stutter as the island rendered. It didn’t last, and that was the only scenario in which I noticed such a problem, but it definitely wasn’t unmissable.

Not Perfect, But Enjoyable Nonetheless

I won’t pretend that Summer In Mara is perfect. I encountered story pacing issues, graphical stuttering, a few annoying mechanics and one bizarre bug. However, I was also greeted by a relaxed adventure that’s designed to be taken slow and enjoyed. This is a thoroughly wholesome game with a fun cast of quirky characters, and it’s definitely on my recommendation list for fans of the farming/life sim genre.

Pros

  • Relaxed
  • Beautiful
  • Likeable protagonist

Cons

  • Poorly placed music
  • Visual stuttering
  • Underwhelming

Verdict
This sweet little indie could be amazing with some work, but is currently held back by a few minor issues.
4/5

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